Every other "Etsy Success" article is about quitting your day job to make your art/craft full time, as your sole means of financial support. This is put forward as some sort of universal human goal we are all to strive for. I have been examining the feasibility of this scenario in my life, more out of intellectual curiosity than actual intent. I do think it is possible, for example, to support yourself decently by designing, making and selling jewelry. Going the one-woman-shop-handmade route might make it a stretch to actually have a retirement nest egg, or good health insurance, if you're going it alone, but you could probably keep a roof over your head if you did it right. The right target market, right mix of products/price points, right mix of selling venues, good marketing, shrewd money decisions. And I actually think that I would probably be shrewd and clever enough to figure out, on paper, how to make that work.
The kicker, however, is actually managing to do it. Day after day after day.
A regular customer said to me once, kind of wistfully,"Oh I envy you! It must be so relaxing to sit down and make a piece of jewelry at the end of the day." Are you shitting me? Relaxing? Not in a million years. It's effing exhausting. For me, anyway. There is a significant amount of anxiety surrounding every single project I do (never have figured out quite what I'm afraid of), and every time I start something, I have to climb over a little ball of anxiety in my gut and that requires energy. That's why so much of every weekend is frittered away in aimless pottering--I'm procrastinating, I'm psyching myself up, I'm circling. I have to spend a few hours circling the project, trying to get the anxiety under control, before I start on it. (I also find it a rather lonely thing to do, and I don't like that feeling of isolation--maybe I'm having an existential crisis every time I start a piece...) And in the end, I just have to say, ENOUGH of this, just do it, you know how, you've done it before. And I make myself sit down and get started. Once I start on it, it's better, and I can generally get it finished (unless I hate it), even if it takes a few days. But I am utterly FRIED by the time I'm done. It's physically and mentally exhausting to me. (I guess I do it more out of a need to vent a creative urge, than for actual fun; I find dammed up creativity makes me feel sick). I have constant neck and back pain, and usually a low grade headache from neck strain. My posture while I'm working on stuff is execrable and I could definitely improve on that (like trade in the coffee table for an actual Big Girl Table), but sitting in one place/one position, for hours at a time, working on some minute little thing, is the most tiring thing I've ever done. My eyes get tired. My brain gets tired. I feel like I've been hit by a truck. Five hours in a day (not counting circling) actually making stuff is the most I can do (and I can't make more than two things, tops, in five hours, unless it's all earrings and then it's maybe three or four pair b/c I make so many of my own components and I agonize over every stupid element in the design), and then I have to switch to something else--photographing it or listing it or posting it on this or that site or whatever. But eight hours of jewelry related stuff in a day is all I can tolerate and then I'm a wreck. And that's on a good day.
My ability to do creative work fluctuates wildly. I have a mild but annoying mood disorder I have to work around, and unfortunately during certain portions of that mood cycle I cannot produce anything, and have difficulty even thinking about producing anything. (I'm there right now, for I'm sure the next several days at least). Fortunately, since I met Tom, the periods of anxiety/depression and/or irritability/agitation/depression (the permutations are a real joy) have become less frequent, milder, and of shorter duration, but while they last I am creatively debilitated or even incapacitated. I feel flat and unfocused at the same time, and every idea I have is utter crap. Jewelery irritates me. And I just don't have the energy to care about it. And all I can do when I'm in the middle of that is walk away from it. For as long as I need to. That would not be an option if my jewelry was paying the rent. Having to force myself to churn out new pieces when my emotional landscape is a chaotic wasteland would be a hellish existence I cannot imagine willfully choosing for myself. Happily, I can continue to do my day job with only a slight decrease in effectiveness when I'm going through a bad patch like this; low or agitated mood only seems to have a modest effect on my intellect/organizational ability, but it puts the hammer on my creativity. And of course my joy, because it's, well, depression.
This has happened numerous times over the last year and a half I've been doing this (that I've walked away for a while), and I'm accustomed enough to my mood cycles to know that they will end--both high mood (which is actually very nice and helpful and sometimes alleviates the anxiety) and low mood will run their course (in my case those cycles tend to be short), and I'll settle again soon enough into something approaching "normal" and I'll be able to work again. It is a wonderful freedom to be able to do that--to let myself off the hook for my creative goals until further notice, and not have to worry about the rent.
I have been more tired in the last several months than I have ever been in my life. I think it's partly that I'm getting older, partly that the day job was very busy and rather stressful earlier this summer, and probably that I'm not taking enough time for myself. Because I spend so much time aimlessly pottering and "circling" anyway, it doesn't seem to affect how much I accomplish if I take an hour to go to the gym, or spend an evening with a friend. I can spend an hour picking at that ball of anxiety at home, or I can leave and go do something else entirely and not even think about it and still probably create the same amount of jewelry. And maybe have a better time doing it. Sometimes I resent that my "hobby" gobbles up so much time, but if I quit I would eventually have to find some other creative outlet anyway so I might as well keep doing it since I suck at painting and sewing.
I'm sure not having a day job would free up a lot of energy for creativity--I have to keep reminding myself, in the evening when I sit down to make something and just want to vegetate in front of the tube instead and feel like a slacker because of it, that I just worked all day. And just maybe that's why I'm tired and want some down time. Being tied up 50 hours a week between work/commuting is going to limit my other pursuits, whatever they are. But those 50 hours are doable. I can't honestly imagine having to do jewelry 50 hours a week. I just don't have it in me. Let alone the 80 hours I hear many jewelry artists work. (Yes, I would love to not have to go to a job every day. But I would want it to be because I was stinking rich.)
Quit my day job? Certainly not.
How about you? Do you ever feel anxiety about starting a new piece? Does making a piece of jewelry energize you? Relax you? Or tire you? Do you struggle with fatigue? How do you address that? Is your muse a constant thing, or does she sometimes desert you? What do you do when you "just aren't in the mood?" If you support yourself with your jewelry, how many hours a day do you spend actually fabricating your pieces? What do you do when you're burnt out? What's your ideal work week, in terms of hours per day? (Feel free to answer none, some or all of these questions as appropriate!)